Agave Family

Soap Plant Flower © KKorbholz

Century Plant Family
Agavaceae (ah-gav-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Leaves large and generally in rosettes
  • Flowers with 6 similar tepals
  • All species contain saponins

Description (Jepson)

  • Monocotyledons (monocots) – monocots are a major lineage of flowering, mostly herbaceous plants, generally characterized by
    • Single seed leaf (cotyledon)
    • Linear or oblong leaves with parallel venation
    • Flower parts in threes
    • Pollen grains with a single pore
    • Vascular bundles scattered in stem
    • Fibrous root system
  • Perennial herbs, shrubs, and trees
  • Geophytes (plants with underground storage organs)
    • Grow from bulbs (short underground stems with fleshy leaves, e.g. onions) or rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
  • Leaves
    • Usually develop as rosettes at the top of a woody stem
    • Simple (not divided into leaflets)
    • Generally long and narrow
    • Generally tough and fibrous; sometimes succulent
    • Often with a spine at the tip and sometimes along the margins
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) a very long panicle (branching stem with flowers opening from the bottom up)
    • Bisexual flowers with 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts), in 2 separate whorls, similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts) or inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)


  • Approximately 637 species worldwide
    • Found especially in dry and desert habitats
    • Includes agave, joshua tree, and yucca
  • Geophytes (e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, rhizomes, or enlarged taproots) are well adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
    • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
  • All plants in this family contain saponins, with various human uses
  • Scientific name from the included genus Agave, from the Greek agauos, “admirable” or “noble,” for the appearance of the century plant (Agave americana)
  • Soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum) is the only representative of this family in Edgewood

See General References

Browse Edgewood Plants in this Family